Scam artists in the U.S. and around the world defraud millions of people each year. They use the phone, email, postal mail, and the internet to trick you into sending money or giving out personal information.
Here are 10 tips to do - or not do - from the BBB and Federal Trade Commission to prevent being scammed.
What to Do:
- Know who you're dealing with. Try to find a seller's physical address (not a P.O. Box) and phone number. With internet phone services and other web-based technologies, it's tough to tell where someone is calling from. Do an online search for the company name and website, and look for reviews. If people report negative experiences, you'll have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. After all, a deal is good only if you get a product that actually works as promised.
- Know that wiring money is like sending cash. Con artists often insist that people wire money, especially overseas, because it's nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money. Don't wire money to strangers, to sellers who insist on wire transfers for payment, or to anyone who claims to be a relative or friend in an emergency and wants to keep the request a secret.
- Read your monthly bank and credit card statements. Scammers steal account information and then run up charges or commit crimes in your name. Dishonest merchants bill you for monthly "membership fees" and other goods or services without your authorization. If you see charges you don't recognize or didn't okay, contact your bank, card issuer, or other creditor immediately.
- After a disaster, give only to established charities. In the aftermath of a disaster, give to an established charity, rather than one that has sprung up overnight. Pop-up charities probably don't have the infrastructure to get help to the affected areas or people, and they could be collecting the money to finance illegal activity.
- Remember there's no sure thing in investing. If someone contacts you with low-risk, high-return investment opportunities, stay away. When you hear pitches that insist you act now, that guarantee big profits, that promise little or no financial risk, or that demand that you send cash immediately, report them at bbb.org and ftc.gov.
What Not to Do:
- Don't send money to someone you don't know. Not to an online seller you've never heard of - or an online love interest who asks for money. It's best to do business with sites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider using a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card.
- If you think you've found a good deal, but you aren't familiar with the company, look into it. Type the company or product name into your favorite search engine with terms like "review," "complaint," or "scam." See what comes up - on the first page of results as well as on the later pages.
- Never pay fees first for the promise of a big pay-off later. This applies to a loan, job, grant or "prize."
- Don't agree to deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks have to make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can over a week. You're responsible for the checks you deposit: If a check turns out to be a fake, you're responsible for paying back the bank.
- Don't reply to messages asking for personal or financial information. It doesn't matter whether the message comes as an email, a phone call, a text message, or an ad. Don't click on links or call phone numbers included in the message, either. It's called "phishing." The crooks behind these messages are trying to trick you into revealing sensitive information
- Don't play a foreign lottery. It is illegal to play a foreign lottery. Inevitably, you have to pay "taxes," "fees," or "customs duties" to collect your prize. If you must send money to collect, you haven't won anything. And if you send any money, you will lose it. You will not receive any money back, either, regardless of promises or guarantees.
The BBB of Acadiana works for a trustworthy marketplace by maintaining standards for truthful advertising, investigating and exposing fraud against consumers and businesses. Please contact the BBB at www.acadiana.bbb.org or (337) 981-3497 24 hours a day for information on businesses throughout North America.
The BBB of Acadiana services the parishes of Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Martin, St. Landry and Vermilion.